Monday, December 23, 2013

Sweet Soul Music

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion – Robert Gordon (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Literally hundreds of books have been written about the about the Civil Rights movement in the United States; much of it misconception about political posturing and what it was that moved the debate to its eventual, dramatic conclusion.

While many books and movies have included passing mention or included scenes about the impact of race relations on the music industry and musical acts of that era, I don’t think that to overall impact of music and the music industry on race relations has ever really been given its full due in having a major impact on civil rights.

While it is certainly not the sole focus of Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by long time Memphis based music journalist Robert Gordon, race and civil rights clearly plays a major role in the story line.

The story of the brother and sister team of Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, the founders of the seminal soul music record label, Stax Records is astounding on many fronts, not the least of which is the impact that these two southern whites had on sparking the explosion of soul music hits that that quite literally was a catalyst in the evolution of race relations in this country.

For years we have seen and heard stories about record labels and music executives that put the screws to music artists, notably black songwriters and performers, but the hose job that the brain trust of Atlantic Records Pulled on Stax records could be the high watermark a musical screwing.

In the end, Respect Yourself is about the music and the laundry list of amazing talent that called Stax Records home. The remarkable list includes; Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. and the M.G.s, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers among many more. The way Gordon weaves the story of the tragic death of Otis Redding leaves a palpable sadness as you read the reactions to the news of the passing of a superstar whose career trajectory was rising quickly.

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